Time Must Have A Stop by Aldous Huxley
|Time Must Have A Stop by Aldous Huxley|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: Intellectual study of the meaning of life and the potential of life after death smothers the small plot upon which its hung. One for the philosophers, not for the story-book readers.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 320||Date: September 2015|
|Publisher: Vintage Classics|
|External links: Author's website|
Sometimes we start reading "authors" as opposed to specific books, because we feel we should. So it was with me and Huxley. I seem to remember reading and actually enjoying the classic Brave New World and so felt compelled to explore more of the oeuvre.
Having just completed the second of the three I committed to reading, I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that the reason most of us have only read Brave New World might just be because it is the only one that is remotely "accessible" to the average reader.
Yes, I know that "accessible" is code for "less intellectual" but I make no bones about it. Huxley wears his academic credentials heavily. He loads his books with them and forces the reader – who is not quite so well read, or so well versed in languages, who has (as my English teacher used to say) not had the benefit of a classical education – to struggle, or to skip.
I did both. I skipped passages where I gave up struggling.
To put it simply: Time Must Have A Stop defeated me. I struggled on to the end, but cannot say that I have gained a thing from having read it. I can roughly explain the plot, I can share some insights that the book is meant to impart, but was it time well-wasted? No, sorry, not for me.
Sebastian Barnack is (according to the blurb) a handsome English schoolboy…on bad terms with his socialist father who disapproves of his hedonistic lifestyle. In fact, Sebastian is not so much 'handsome' as 'pretty'. Not so much a hedonist as a romantic. He is a poet, to boot. Think of the romantics…think in particular of Shelley, but give him blonder curls…
Imagine such a creature – motherless at a young age, brought up in a household of true socialists, who are using their money to better their fellow man and who really truly cannot see the value of a set of evening clothes. Imagine such a creature, perhaps part Wilde, for whom the clothes are particularly necessary or how else dare he be seen (be seen by young ladies no less) at his friend's dinner party.
From my remove – the very idea of attending such a thing as a dinner party at an age where one has not yet gone up to Oxford, is itself slightly absurd, but what do I know?
The 'evening dress' is however the crux upon which the whole novel revolves.
As our romantic hero is whisked away to Florence by an uncle who is the antithesis of his father, the costume may just be one of the many benedictions about to be bestowed upon him. Until, a sudden death, a mistaken choice and all of the consequences that follow upon such things.
Much of the book is about the nature of death, and the questioning as to whether there is anything beyond this life. Having one of his main characters die and then be contacted via a medium gives Huxley one strand of exploration for a possibility of an afterlife… but he uses other characters to question the validity of what we've seen.
As often (it would seem from my limited experience) the novel is not the thing for this author. The story is merely the peg upon which to hang a debate. In this case a debate about life and death and the value of either.
Does suffering make one a better person, he asks – and roundly answers in the negative. Does a lack of compassion matter then? Surprisingly, yes, he argues it does – on one of any number of different levels, whether earthly or religious, being compassionate (of course he debates at length what that really means) does make for a better life – if not necessarily a better afterlife.
Picking up on the romantic theme he refers again and again to the Keatsian assertion about beauty and truth through explorations of religion and art and whether in essence they differ.
At times the plot takes an anarchic, almost farcical twist, with bedroom antics, and imagined love affairs, allegedly stolen property suddenly restored… but such things rapidly degenerate into false accusations and the threat of the jackboots at the door. In some ways it reflects the time it was written: in the mid-fifties in the west the post-war austerity was loosening, and a bright future was looking to be possible, but that was set against what communism and socialism were already becoming in eastern Europe and Asia. The wars that had been fought, were still being fought, were looking to have achieved very little.
So, ultimately, this book seems to ask – what really was the point of it all?
It is a worthy book, full of philosophical discourse – and I have to say that is the only way to read it. To read it as a novel first, makes it something of a trudge through treacle.
I have to give it 3 stars because at times the writing does sharpen into a crisp grasp of an idea… and I can't deny the scholarship that it expounds. But I can't give it more than that, because it is being sold as a novel, and on that level I'm afraid it doesn’t work for your average reader.
After Many A Summer by Aldous Huxley is rather more accessible.
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